Music

Whole Lotta Drums: Jason Bonham proves legacy is only part of his appeal

Jason Bonham can answer the age-old question: What’s in a name?

Bonham, a critically acclaimed rock drummer in his own right, readily admits he started in the business as a bit of a rube with the surname of the man considered one of the greatest rockers ever behind the drum set, the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.

“I actually replaced a guy in a band when I was first starting out, basically because of my name,” Bonham says in a phone interview from his Florida home. 

It’s his chops, however, that earned the respect of rockers like Mick Jones of Foreigner and Sammy Hagar, and keep audiences buying tickets to Led Zeppelin Evening, which stops Thursday at Bold Point Park in East Providence.

At the time his father died in 1980, Bonham was fourteen and says he was number three in his age group on the dirt bike circuit in Great Britain. He planned to go pro because it was something “no one else in the family” had done. Instead, his father’s death from alcohol poisoning nudged him toward music.

“It was all downhill after that!” he laughs, referring to his own wild ride with drugs and alcohol, followed by rehab and the decision 22 years ago to stay sober. “I got crazy about things – thinking it was all for me and I deserved it.”

Bonham admits he had been a great drummer at age 10, good at age 12 and average at age 16. However, in his 20s, he says it became “about being the best and winning awards.”

“Then I got serious about the whole thing and realized that to make any mark as a drummer, especially if your dad is one of the greatest of all time, I needed to work harder,” Bonham says.

Although he admits it took 40 years to accomplish what his father did in a shorter span, years of honing his skills and staying sober helped him live up to that legacy. 

“They said in meetings that things would happen in sobriety that I just wouldn’t believe, and they were right!” Bonham says. “Sometimes I look up to the sky and say ‘Okay!’”

The rocker has taken the stage with Foreigner, Hagar, Ted Nugent, Heart and others.

“I was fortunate enough to play in bands with father figures. I don’t know if I looked for something like that,” he muses.

Eventually, he returned to his roots. After playing reunion shows with his father’s former bandmates, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, he created the Led Zeppelin Evening, a tribute that delivers powerful renditions of the band’s hits, such as “Kashmir,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

Along the way, he’s had many conversations in his head with his father – “I wonder what he thinks about things” – and recalls one night in Maine where he felt him on stage with him.

“My dad always wore the cologne Paco Rabanne and, all of a sudden, the smell of it came over me. It was as if he’d come through me, and I got emotional about it,” Bonham says.

For tickets to the Led Zeppelin Evening with Jason Bonham, go to www.waterfrontconcerts.com

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